On Saturday evening from Manchester, Billy Joe Saunders (23-0, 12 KO’s) won a tactical, some might say, dull majority decision over Irish Andy Lee (34-3, 24 KO’s) to win the WBO Middleweight Championship of the world.
Andy Lee, who before 2014 was mainly remembered for his brutal knockout loss to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, had a jumpstart in his career when he dramatically scored a one punch knockout over Middleweight prospect John Jackson (son of Julian Jackson). In this fight, like many others, Lee had been dominated and hurt multiple times before landing the magnificent left hand. Six months later, Lee stepped in as a clear underdog against the then undefeated WBO Middleweight Champ Matt Korobov. Again, Lee looked vulnerable, and was dominated in the first six rounds before landing another monstrous right hook that won him the WBO championship. Lee then went on to fight Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin to a competitive draw, in a fight where both fighters hit the canvas. Though Lee had an impressive resume, this writer could not help feel that if Lee didn’t get bailed out with a big punch, he was going to be in real trouble with a slick boxer like Saunders.
Billy Joe Saunders, who before this fight was relatively unknown in the states, was pretty well known in Great Britain for his impressive win over contender Chris Eubank Jr. in November of last year.
Both fighters started the first round (and most of the fight), feinting and throwing the occasional jab, trying to feel each other out. Saunders being careful of Lee’s big punches, provided constant movement of his head, and feet. Almost at the end of the first round, Saunders was able to land the only real significant punch of the round, a right hook following a lead left hand that landed flush on Lee’s face.
The action in the second continued just as cautiously as the action in the first, with both fighters reluctant to leave an opening for the other, mostly throwing feints rather than punches. Saunders did seem to land the cleaner punches, at times lunging in with his right jab, other times countering over Lee’s jab with his left.
The only real dramatic action in fight came in the third round when with 1:24 left Saunders was able to make Lee miss a straight left hand and beautifully counter with a right hook that sent Lee crashing to the canvas. Lee beat the count but appeared to still be quite buzzed, and after another two right hooks went down for the second time in the round. Lee who seemed badly hurt, showed his heart and recuperative abilities and was able to struggle out of the round.
One would have expected that Saunders would come out and possibly apply a little pressure, to see if he could take Lee out, but the recent memory of seeing Jackson and Korobov seemed to have won him over. Instead of applying pressure, Saunders did the exact opposite, and gave the fourth round away, allowing Lee to simply stand in front of him and land the occasional jab and straight left.
Besides a big looping left hand by Saunders, the fifth round went along like most of the fight. Saunders making himself a tough target with his head movement and footwork, and Lee continuing to wait and stay gun-shy. Making it another difficult round to score.
As the fight continued through into the second half of the fight, it seemed to have more and more lulls, with each taking turns landing one maybe two punches at a time. The audience seemed to be waiting for the action to explode again, but neither fighter willing to risk leaving an opening for the others shot. The saying goes, “To be the champ, you have to beat champ.” To be the champ, you also need to do what it takes to remain the champ. Knowing he was behind in the scorecards, Lee needed to really apply the pressure and raise his output in the middle rounds, something he did not do.
Going into the last two rounds, it seemed that Lee would need to win them in impressive fashion to pull out the victory. He did seem to win those rounds, but only really seemed to gamble in the last minute of the final round.
After the final bell, both fighters lifted their arms in celebration of the victory they both felt they had earned. The scorecards read 113-113, 114-112, 115-111, in favor of Billy Joe Saunders via Majority decision.
Even though it wasn’t the most spectacular of victories, Billy Joe Saunders showed great skill and instincts in the ring. He showed he is a smart boxer with a slick style and potent jab, and will no doubt be a difficult task for WBA champion Daniel Jacobs, who appears to be his next big name opponent.
Andy Lee, as stated by this writer earlier, seemed to be caught waiting for the big savior of a right hand to come. This time it didn’t and he just was not active enough to retain the title. This was not a bad showing for the Irishman, but he will no doubt have to adjust a few aspects of his game if he wishes to make it back to a title fight.
-Hector Gomez @hector_gomez810